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Announcing the Eleventh Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2010)

Two parks and recreation agencies and three military installations are recipients of the 2010 Excellence in Youth Sports Awards.

During the past 15 years, there has been no shortage of efforts to make youth sports programs safer and more effective. Sportsmanship education, the widespread implementation of background checks, and an increased number of organized activities for toddlers all contributed to creating healthier environments for kids. And even though there's still a long way to go, the Excellence in Youth Sports Awards program - introduced in 2000 - strives to ensure that positive changes will continue.

Developed by Athletic Business and the National Alliance for Youth Sports, the awards recognize organizations for their efforts to make diverse athletic, fitness and recreation activities a major priority for kids, while focusing on safe and positive experiences for all participants (including parents, coaches and officials).

Last year, the program celebrated a decade of excellence, with 47 groups from around the world - including municipalities, military bases, Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs - having been honored as recipients since 2000. Five more organizations were added in 2010:

Excellence Award applications are judged on several criteria, including what the organization does to educate their administrators, volunteer coaches, game officials and parents, in addition to how well each demonstrates a child-centered recreational sports philosophy that is aimed at providing positive and safe experiences for all kids.

The Excellence Award winners will be honored at the Athletic Business Conference and NAYS Youth Sports Congress, Dec. 1-4, in San Diego, Calif.

Glynn County (Ga.) Recreation & Parks Department With an emphasis on technology, administrators help keep kids and parents safe. -By Linda Alberts

For the Glynn County Recreation & Parks Department, being selected as an Excellence in Youth Sports Award recipient doesn't just acknowledge the hard work that is required to produce a quality youth sports program. It also recognizes the efforts of the whole community in contributing toward a positive experience for children.

"The leadership skills and dedication of our staff to the kids are second to none," says Steve Mellinger, the department's program manager. "This, along with the cooperation of the parents, as well as the volunteer coaches and officials, is the real reason why Glynn County has been recognized as one of this year's winners. They understand the importance of abiding by our rules, philosophy and standards, so that the needs of the children participating in our sports program come first."

Maintaining the safety of children, not to mention that of the volunteer coaches, parents and other spectators, is one of Glynn County's main focuses - accomplished with the help of technology. For example, during certain times of the year in South Georgia (where Glynn County is located), thunderstorms occur almost every afternoon. As a result, Mellinger and his staff must weigh decisions about whether a storm is close enough to suspend play or if it's safe to return kids to the field. A newly installed lightning detection system helps them accomplish just that by measuring static buildup in the atmosphere and eliminating guesswork.

"I want to know before the lightning strikes, so there's enough time to get the kids off the playing field and into a safer area," Mellinger says, adding that the detection system sets off an audible and visual alarm signal well before the level of static buildup reaches the point required to form lightning. "It also sounds another type of alarm when the static buildup has decreased to a safe level for the game to resume."

Glynn County's youth sports administrators also hope to expand their use of video cameras. Devices installed at facilities can offer safer experiences for the more than 3,100 young participants. The county's main recreation complex encompasses 153 acres, including four softball fields, four baseball fields and five full-size football/soccer fields, as well as picnic pavilions and a skate park. "Our proposed video cameras will cover this entire park, including the entrances, and record all vehicles and pedestrians coming in and out," Mellinger says. "Each camera can be viewed from our office via computer, so we can see what's going on from miles away."

Training volunteer coaches is an important component of program safety, too. Glynn County requires that each coach be certified through the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, which covers such topics as the psychology of coaching youth sports, communication, child abuse, injury prevention, and nutrition and hydration, as well as offers sport-specific skills and drills. Additionally, each volunteer coach must agree to a background check.

An online Coach Rating System created by NAYS collects and analyzes anonymous parent evaluations, which has taken some coaches by surprise, Mellinger says, adding that the anonymity encourages parents to be honest when judging their kids' coaches. "But it gives them an opportunity to grow as a coach - just like they expect their players to grow from their mistakes or subpar performances."

Going forward, Mellinger expects safety to continue to be the Glynn County Recreation & Parks Department's top priority. "We expect all of our volunteer coaches, officials and parents to abide by our rules and standards in order to continue being part of our youth sports program," he says. Through the use of technology and training, he and his staff can ensure safe and positive experiences that help children learn both sports and life lessons. After all, Mellinger concludes, "That's the real reason we're out there."

Linda Alberts is the public relations coordinator for NAYS.

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Youth Sports Program (Calif.) A teen mentor program and an honest approach to budget issues bolster this organization's success. -By Linda Alberts

Applying for the Excellence in Youth Sports Award is a process administrators at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar know quite well - and take quite seriously. The military installation was named one of 20 Honorable Mention recipients in 2009, which laid the foundation for winning one of five Excellence in Youth Sports Awards this year.

"We considered it a privilege to be considered an Honorable Mention," says Sheron Jones, director of Miramar Youth Sports, who admits that changes needed to be made toward providing a better youth sports program. "We solicited feedback from parents, coaches and players to determine which areas they felt could use improvement."

With the responses they received, Jones and her staff determined that program documentation and marketing efforts could be improved upon. "Constructive criticism and reflection can provide a great learning experience," she says, and suggests that other youth sports administrators be open to new ideas. "It's important to think outside of the box and be creative. Every year, we try to add at least one new activity or program."

Miramar Youth Sports has faced its share of obstacles, too - budget cuts being the toughest. Jones says an open and honest approach with parents and coaches about financial challenges has resulted in a tremendous support system. Coaches have provided their own practice equipment, and parents have volunteered to undergo training on how to handle food and manage money and inventory in order to operate a revenue-generating concessions stand during games. Additionally, Miramar Youth Sports has utilized its good relationships with vendors to make price adjustments and apply for grants and sponsorships in order to continue offering a quality and innovative program.

Sportsmanship is one of the key values Miramar Youth Sports aims to instill in participants, because it's a skill they can use in all aspects of life. "Being a member of a team develops a youth's ability to work well with others and practice good social and communication skills," Jones says. "Because we include all youth regardless of ability, the children learn how to appreciate differences in others and diversity."

Each volunteer coach and volunteer official is trained through the NAYS-sponsored National Youth Sports Coaches Association and the National Youth Sports Officials Association, respectively - something that provides peace of mind to both administrators and parents. "Having trained and educated volunteer coaches and volunteer officials in our program gives parents a sense of relief," Jones says. "They know that their child is going to be treated fairly. Through hard work, dedication and support, we have built a reputation in our community for being the program that everyone wants to participate in."

Indeed, Miramar Youth Sports has a retention rate of 80 percent of its participants, and a participation increase of between two percent and four percent each year. "We all share a common goal to provide a positive and safe place for our youth to play sports," Jones says. "We're almost like a family. It's a tight-knit community, and we welcome everyone that wants to participate."

To that end, Miramar Youth Sports recently launched a new program called the Junior Coach and Official Program for teenagers who desire to help out. Jones explains that the idea for the program came from realizing that, as teens got older, they participated less frequently on teams. This approach helps retain them, but in a different capacity. The teens go through the same NAYS training as adult volunteer coaches and officials. "Although they are not old enough to become certified through NAYS, they still watch the videos and attend mandatory meetings," Jones says, adding that the teens are paired with a certified coach or official, who serves in a mentor capacity.

Linda Alberts is the public relations coordinator for NAYS.

Oconee (Ga.) County Parks and Recreation Department Oconee County uses educational tools to enhance the youth sports experience. -By Linda Alberts

Lisa Davol, deputy director of programs for the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, is proud to receive the recognition that comes with winning the Excellence in Youth Sports Award. But she knows her job isn't done yet. "Each year, it is our goal to make improvements that will augment our successes, thus creating the best sports learning environment that is safe and fun," she says.

That's why Oconee County implemented online coach evaluations in 2009 to help assess its youth sports programs. An e-mail containing a link to the survey is sent to parents of youth sports participants, and the results help administrators keep better tabs on the more than 40 programs the county offers each year for more than 3,200 participants. "Technology is a must in reaching the citizens in our community, such as parents and volunteer coaches," Davol says, adding that the county has official Facebook and Twitter pages, offers online registration and sends out monthly e-mail newsletters.

Another way Oconee County uses technology to quickly disseminate information is through an inclement weather hotline, which has the capability of accepting an unlimited number of incoming phone calls regarding the status of programs when conditions are threatening. In other words, any parent, coach or player can promptly learn whether or not an activity will take place, instead of receiving a busy signal.

Like most municipal entities these days, Oconee County's Parks and Recreation Department has seen significant budget reductions during the past year, which hastened the implementation of new technologies. But financial restraints do not mean the department will stop putting the best interests of its child participants first. "We are constantly searching for new ways to improve upon the programs and services we offer," Davol says. Among the possible new offerings is a public information seminar on concussions.

As part of their current efforts, Oconee County mandates two programs created by NAYS. Volunteer coaches must be trained through the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, which covers such topics as the psychology of coaching youth sports, communication, child abuse, injury prevention, and nutrition and hydration, as well as offers sport-specific skills and drills. In addition to completing the NYSCA education, coaches must pledge to uphold the Coaches Code of Ethics. In 2009, Oconee County provided NYSCA training to more than 1,500 volunteer coaches.

Oconee County also requires at least one parent of each participating child to complete the Parents Association for Youth Sports training program, another NAYS effort. By utilizing PAYS in their youth sports programs, Oconee County provided more than 3,500 parents with the information they needed to resolve conflict and communicate clearly with their children and coaches in 2009. Like coaches, parents must pledge to uphold the Parents Code of Ethics, which outlines the responsibilities and expectations of a youth sports parent.

"Our staff strives to offer quality youth sports programs and is proud to receive recognition for their efforts," said Davol. "It validates the hard work involved in providing positive experiences to the youth in our community."

Linda Alberts is the public relations coordinator for NAYS.

Spangdahlem Air Force Base Youth Sports (Germany) Soliciting and utilizing feedback is one key to success for this strong youth sports program. -By Linda Alberts

At Spangdahlem Air Force Base Youth Sports, coaches and parents provide a solid program foundation. "Volunteers, whether they are coaches or team parents, are the backbone," says Marjorie Egger, youth sports director at Germany's Spangdahlem Air Force Base. "Without our volunteers, our program would not exist."

Each volunteer coach must receive certification through the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, which covers such topics as the psychology of coaching youth sports, communication, child abuse, injury prevention, and nutrition and hydration, as well as offers sport-specific skills and drills. Similarly, parents must attend a Parents Association for Youth Sports meeting and agree to uphold the Parents Code of Ethics outlining their role and responsibilities as a youth sports parent. The staff at Spangdahlem Youth Sports advises everyone involved in the program that the activities are recreational in nature and that the emphasis should remain on fun and skills development - not competition.

Nevertheless, every person involved in the program must be held accountable for his or her actions and uphold the program's philosophy. For example, the Spangdahlem Youth Sports staff provides volunteer coaches with guidance throughout the season and conducts informal feedback sessions on a regular basis. "The staff shares their observations with the coaches, and the coaches share their experience with the staff," Egger says. "Two-way communication is important. If you wait until the end of the season to get feedback, it may be too late to salvage a successful experience for all. Feedback from parents provides us with another resource to create a quality youth sports program. There are times parents see things that we as staff do not."

Although Spangdahlem Air Force Base is located in an isolated region of Germany, the youth sports program encourages maximum participation from the area's population. "Being involved with other local communities provides our youth, parents and coaches with a wonderful experience crossing into the local cultures," Egger says, adding that her program works with various organizations within the local community to provide additional outlets for soccer, baseball and basketball. "These experiences give them an opportunity to build lifetime friendships. In the end, everyone recognizes that they are more alike than different. We are looking to continue reaching out to our local community and establish new relationships in the future."

At the end of each season, one player from every team is presented with a special Sportsmanship Achievement Medal as chosen by the team's coaches. Recognizing a player who consistently displays good sportsmanship can encourage other participants in the program to incorporate those qualities into their own behavior. "In addition to providing the children with fundamental sports skills and fun, we want them to become good sportsmen," Egger says.

Linda Alberts is the public relations coordinator for NAYS.

U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Youth Sports and Fitness A teamwork approach has helped make this one of the Department of Defense's top youth sports programs. -By Linda Alberts

To the staff at U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Youth Sports, "excellence" means developing a youth sports program that meets the ever-changing needs of kids. Previously an Honorable Mention recipient of the Excellence in Youth Sports Award in 2009, this organization is now recognized as a winner of the prestigious award. "It is gratifying for the hard work of everyone involved in the youth sports program to be recognized," says Gus Harper, youth sports director at USAG-Hawaii, Directorate of Family and MWR, Child Youth & School Services, Youth Sports and Fitness. "This is what we call a team award. The dedication and help of people from many different departments in the Army, in addition to our volunteer coaches, participating children, their parents and the Hawaii Youth Sports staff contributed to receiving this award."

The biggest challenge, Harper explains, is that USAG-Hawaii does not have its own facilities for the more than 3,000 children who participate in programs. But that hasn't deterred administrators. If anything, it inspires them to work harder in the areas they can control - such as staff development. Training requirements and credentials are monitored quarterly and are a condition of employment. Staff training files, youth health assessments, coaches' certifications and background checks are inspected during annual Department of Defense visits. Hawaii Youth Sports reports that its program has sustained the highest level of excellence for the past five years, as documented by DoD Certification Inspections.

In fact, it is not uncommon for other Army installations to visit USAG-Hawaii and observe programs, procedures, rules, regulations and ideas in action. Harper attributes one of the main reasons for the success of Hawaii Youth Sports' success to the efforts put into research and development before implementing new programs. Staff members scour the Internet, relevant periodicals, NAYS data and the Army Child, Youth & School Services programs. Harper also collaborates with fellow youth sports directors for their insight, and he and his staff review and analyze ideas from their volunteer coaches, parents and participating children. Missed opportunities, he says, often are the result of someone's idea not being valued.

The concern, above all else, remains putting the needs of each participating child first. This means providing a safe environment, equal playing time, age-appropriate activities and, most importantly, fun. "Our situation has given us the opportunity to partner and coordinate within our Department of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR)," Harper says. For example, when the state of Hawaii was under a tsunami alert one day in February 2010, all of the scheduled youth sports games that day were cancelled. Administrators quickly coordinated with outside organizations with which they work to schedule make-up dates, so that no parent or child would be cheated out of a game.

Harper and his staff are aware of the importance of sustaining excellence. "It's one thing to achieve excellence, but the goal for us as a team is to maintain that consistency as a program over a long period of time," he says. "We will continue to improve on our present and ongoing programs, as well as continue to reach out to military and civilian communities for partnerships and develop new programs to target youths who are battling obesity in our community."

Linda Alberts is the public relations coordinator for NAYS.

Previous winners from 2000 to 2009:

First Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2000)

Second Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2001)

Third Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2002)

Fourth Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2003)

Fifth Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2004)

Sixth Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2005)

Seventh Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2006)

Eighth Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2007)

Ninth Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2008)

Tenth Annual Excellence in Youth Sports Award Winners (2009)

For the most current Excellence in Youth Sports Awards information, visit: http://athleticbusiness.com/nays/

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